(In celebration of the Los Angeles City Council ban on plastic shopping bags, I decided to update this article, which I originally blogged on my Blogger blog in July, 2010, in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico BP deep-water oil well disaster).
Around 2006, I finally got fed up with the massive stockpile of plastic and paper shopping bags I had stuffed – or rather jammed – into one of my lower kitchen cabinets.
Fire hazard doesn’t even begin to define the problem.
As the child of depression era parents, and the grandchild of a grandmother who saved and reused all manner of store-bought packaging, I had trouble with the idea of just throwing all those bags away.
As an environmentalist, the guilt I felt accepting the bags at all was also gnawing at my soul, and had been for years.
Paper bags require trees and cutting trees depletes the planet’s oxygen supply.
Plastic bags, even worse, are made of petroleum – you know – the dinosaur goo that just ruined our beloved Gulf of Mexico after an oil well blew up.
Discarded plastic bags, just as bad, have piled up during the past three decades to the point where there are continent sized islands of them clustered out in the middle of our oceans. Fish eat the bits of plastic that break off into the water, and die… so on and so forth… you get the continent-sized ugly picture.
And besides, in my kitchen, I was running out of paper-and-plastic-bag-storage space.
So, finally, one day, I broke ranks with the cheap-side of my genetic makeup, and purchased five, $1 reusable shopping bags during my next grocery shop for the family.
I felt great – I’d CHANGED for the better, finally; so I thought.
But of course, the very next time I went to the market, though I’d been careful to take the reusable bags to my car, and store them in the hatchback part of my little, fuel-efficient hatchback, I forgot to carry the reusable bags into the store.
I did not realize my mistake until checkout, so I begged the clerk to let me run to the car to get the bags. He did, but the situation was awkward because it caused a checkout traffic jam, which nobody appreciates, including me.
The very next time after that, and again and again, the same exact scenario transpired: I forgot the bags and had to beg the clerk for a reprieve while I ran to the car to get them at checkout.
Sometimes, my then-teenage daughter would be with me at the store, so I’d send her out, running, to get the bags from the car.
AAARRRGH! Why was it so hard for me to remember the resuable bags? Obviously, there was a big difference between “wanting change” and actually “changing.”
Finally, fed up with my spoiled by the plastic bag forgetfulness, I decided to exploit my cheap-side, meanly.
Next time I went shopping and forgot the bags, I simply bought new bags, five, for $5.00.
I repeated this punishment for a couple of months – really – a couple of months – until I’d amassed about thirty reusable shopping bags in the back of my hatchback.
Then, at last, the great day came. I pulled into the parking lot at the grocery store; got out and locked the doors; went around to the hatch; unlocked it and lifted it open; grabbed about six of the 30 bags, and went into the store.
Yay! I had finally accomplished REAL change, that I could believe in, for a whopping $30 or so.
I felt good about myself, and moreover, as I walked into that store, I felt really super-cool; way ahead of the pack; like the first kid on the block; like a real maverick: this latter set of high self-esteem descriptors is quite an accomplishment for a middle aged mom.
Six years have gone by since I forced myself to discard my wasteful habit of accepting paper or plastic at the checkout counter. I view the number of bags I haven’t used the way Scrooge McDuck views his gold coins; kind of a mutation of my cheap-side:
How many plastic bags have I now NEVER taken in the past six years? I figure the number is around 3,000. That amounts to 100 bags not wasted for every $1 I spent on a reusable bag.
Word on the street is that Angelenos are handed over 1 billion plastic bags per year while shopping, and that the city spends millions per year cleaning up the litter of those carelessly discarded.